Summary: Sermon #6 in the Hymn-writers series is about Rich Mullins who wrote such popular songs as "Awesome God" and "Step by Step"
CHCC: August 24, 2008
Phil. 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Today I’m finishing up a series of sermons on hymn writers. I’ve talked about several great Christian song writers from the past. But today I want to talk about someone who wrote music for OUR time. In fact, he wrote two of the songs we sang today --- Step by Step and Awesome God. His name is Rich Mullins, and he composed hundreds of Christian songs from the early 1980’s until he died in a jeep accident at the age of 41.
The story of Mullin’s life is a testimony in itself. In fact, those who knew him said his life was an arrow pointing to heaven. That description came from the picture you see overhead. A friend took the picture while they were visiting Ireland. When he took the picture, the friend said, “You look like an arrow pointing to heaven!” … and the description stuck.
Rich was one of those kids who showed tremendous aptitude for music early on. His mom discovered his unusual talent one day when she was listening to Rich’s sister, Debbie, practicing piano. 10-year-old Debbie kept playing a section of the song that she just couldn’t get. She played it over and over and over again. (Any of you who have children learning to play an instrument know what that’s like!)
Suddenly, Mom heard the song being played flawlessly all the way through. She exclaimed, “Good job, Debbie! You’re really getting it!.” Then she walked into the room … to find little 5-year-old Rich … who had never had a music lesson in his life … playing Debbie’s song effortlessly.
Needless to say, they got Rich signed up for piano lessons right away. He quickly mastered several instruments, and he was especially drawn to unusual instruments like the mandolin, the hammered dulcimer, and the tin flute. If you listen to his albums, you’ll hear him playing all those instruments.
There’s so much I could share about Rich Mullins, that it’s a challenge to keep it down --- so we can get out of here and let the Spanish folks have their service. Sydney Dodds (our church treasurer) loaned me a devotional biography about his life that I recommend to any of you who want to know more about him. I put the information on the sermon notes page. (Rich Mullins – A Devotional Biography; An Arrow Pointing to Heaven; by James Bryan Smith)
Rich had a number of themes that he repeated over and over in his music and his writing. One of the themes of his life and his songs was the Importance of the Church.
1. The Importance of the Church
Rich was brought up in a Christian home. For the first 6 years of his life, he attended Quaker meetings with his mother and two sisters. This background gave him a lifetime appreciation for seeking God’s presence with simplicity and silence. In later years, Rich became involved in his dad’s church: Whitewater Christian Church in Richmond, Indiana. That connection lead Rich to attend Cincinnati Bible Seminary.
He attended for 6 years without finishing a degree. Rich had a hard time narrowing down to a single major --- but the time was not wasted. During those years, he worked as a youth minister in a Methodist Church --- and he wrote Christian music which he performed all around the Midwest in a band called Zion.
Because of his talents, Rich’s Uncle believed he could make a living from his music. (You know how it is. When someone’s been in college for 6 years, you start hoping they’ll take an interest in making a living.) But the problem was, Rich had absolutely NO interest in money. From beginning to the end of his life, all Rich cared about was doing ministry. So his uncle convinced him that making a CD would expand his ability to reach out to people.
He was right. Rich’s CD eventually wound up in the hands of Amy Grant’s organization. When they called Rich and asked if they could use his song, Sing Your Praise to the Lord, Rich just said “Sure, go ahead.” He didn’t ask anything about payment because he figured he was just giving it to them.
That song rose to #1 on the Contemporary Christian Music Charts. And eventually he was hired as the starting singer for Amy Grant’s concerts. That’s when his career took off. But Rich was never your typical Christian Music Artist. He was advised to lose weight, learn to dance on stage, and write more upbeat songs … so he could advance his career and make more money. But Rich ignored all that kind of advice.
His purpose in writing and performing music was simply to point people to Christ. His concerts were as much a worship service as you would find in any Church.